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On the Edge of Utopia:
Performance and Ritual at Burning Man 
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Since 1986, Burning Man has evolved from founder Larry Harvey’s personal healing ritual into a cultural movement where ritual, visual art, and performance collide on an epic scale. During the week before Labor Day, fifty thousand people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to build Black Rock City. At the center of Black Rock City is a forty-foot wooden effigy of a Man, an icon around which art, performance, and community revolve. In this book Rachel Bowditch – performer, theatre director, scholar, and Burning Man participant – explores the spectrum of performance and ritual practices within Black Rock City from the everyday to spectacle, from the profane to the sublime. Burning Man can be seen as a revival of the ancient Roman Saturnalia, a site for rehearsals of utopia, and a secular pilgrimage that is forging new paradigms for performance, installation art, community, and invented rituals bringing the avant-garde into the 21st century. 


On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man. Enactments Series, Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press (2010).

Reviews for On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man:

Heather Ramey. “On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man,” Theatre Journal. December 2011. Pp. 667-668.

“Bowditch’s well-researched and provocative book […] is the first book to explore the event through a performance studies lens. […] In it, performance studies scholars will find a useful, in-depth resource documenting the multiplicity of performances involved in the event, with individual case studies for studying ritual, spectacle, carnival, and performativity.”

Neşe Lisa Şenol. “On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man,” TDR: The Drama Review 44:4 (T212) Winter 2011. Pp.167-168.

“There are surprisingly few academic books written about Burning Man, considering the cultural significance and scope of the event — a fact that Rachel Bowditch acknowledges in her preface. Bowditch adds considerably to this conversation by offering a detailed study that draws equally from field notes, interviews, history, political theory, aesthetics, and performance theory, arguably affording the most holistic and detailed portrait of Burning Man in print. While other books have particular disciplinary bents or are penned by devotees, this book offers a comprehensive analysis of Burning Man’s social, historical, and political roles in our culture and society.”

Susan Luckman. “Festive Emplacements: Burning Man and Goa Trance,” Cultural Studies Review. Volume 17 Number 1 March 2011. Pp.362-71.

“Bowditch offers a thorough overview of Burning Man from the first event held in 1986 on the beach in San Francisco, through to the present and the fifty thousand people who annually descend on the Nevada desert site. With its originary stories strongly influenced by the actions and memories of a number of key figures, negotiating the complex politics, egos, and recollections of this is not an easy task but Bowditch acknowledges the difficulties and appears to negotiate them with dexterity.”


Zarrilli, Phillip B. “Altered Consciousness in Performance: West and East,” Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Volume One: History, Culture, and the Humanities. Ed. Etzel Cardena, Michael Winkelman. Praeger, 2011. Citation about On the Edge of Utopia: Performance and Ritual at Burning Man on page 302.


Festive Performance: Staging Community and Utopia in the Americas. Co-edited anthology with Dr. Pegge Vissicaro developed as part of the Institute for Humanities Research Fellowship grant 2009-2010. Under contract with the Enactments Series, Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press (Expected publication: 2013).

Crossing the Line: Rasaboxes and Training the Athlete of the Emotions. Co-edited anthology with Paula Murray Cole of Ithaca College with essays by Richard Schechner, Michele Minnick, and others (Book prospectus under development for Routledge).


“The Inferno: Burning Man and the Tipping Point.” Accepted for Devils of the Americas, edited by Milla Riggio and Angela Marino Segura. To be published by University of Chicago Press, 2012. Website created for the book: with funding from the Hemispheric Institute, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and the University of California at Berkeley.

The book will also be published in Spanish by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Press.


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